Marks and Spencer’s business links with the right-wing press were recently put under the spotlight by activists from Global Justice Manchester. Picketing the M&S flagship store in Market St they invited shoppers to take action to dissuade the brand from paying for advertising with the tabloid because of its hate filled and divisive coverage, directed at migrants and asylum seekers.
For several months leading up to this day of action, the 6 July, secret shoppers have been visiting M&S stores nationwide and slipping “calling cards” and flyers into and among goods on display for customers to find and read; as part of the Stop Funding Hate campaign (#StopFundingHate)
These have drawn attention to the Daily Mail’s anti-migrant and anti-asylum seeker/refugee news message and invited people to protest to M&S via the Global Justice website. Although activists have been caught and ejected while placing these messages, most of the time they left anonymously, their trail of campaign material being quickly found by customers amongst bread and fresh fruit, or maybe weeks later when in clothing or furniture.
Campaigners shared and discussed Information with shoppers outside the store on Market St and petition signatures were gathered. Several shoppers identified with the issues from their personal histories and experience. Daoudi Kiraruberwa from the Eastern Congo stopped to join the group and pledged to campaign with them more generally.
The action quickly came to the attention of store security staff who kept the peaceful activists outside the store under surveillance, one photographing the activists with his mobile phone.
Laura Williams from Global Justice Now explained (see video below) the action drawing attention to the corporations’ AGM (11 July) and stressing that the behaviour of M&S was unacceptable in Manchester.
Cynicism, irony, or contempt?
The campaign comes at a time when the grocery and household retailer has targeted new customers with what it describes as a ‘radical’ new ad campaign reminding customers that life is short and they should “Spend it well”. As well as running the M&S advert campaign the Mail Online also published a very complimentary ‘puff piece’ on the campaign, which it categorised as a news story.
M&S, only a couple of minutes walk from the site of the Victoria Terror attack, had plastered their windows with “I heart MCR” messages. Manchester is arguably the most ethnically diverse city in Europe, but M&S do not seem to see the irony of the contradiction with it’s slogan and supporting the Daily Mail with advertising and promotions.
M&S not alone
Campaigners concede that M&S aren’t unique in their use of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mail is not unique in inciting hostility. A damning United Nations report described the UK’s media as “uniquely aggressive in its campaigns against refugees and migrants.”
A local group of rappers calling themselves LEVELZ recently staged a mass-burning of copies of the Sun as part of their campaign to “Bun the Sun” and get it out of Manchester and posted a video on YouTube; in which they describe The Sun as “Race bating, poor hating, tax evading, elite protecting, phone hacking…”
Stop Funding Hate have also identified the Daily Express as promoting sectarian hatred. It has called on the Manchester-based Co-op, as one of the UK’s leading ethical brands which advertises in the Express, to reflect on the paper’s headlines and statements from the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester and the UN that such stories promote hate crime and legitimise it.
Social media has also been used extensively along with paper petitions as a way of bringing home to the companies the reputational damage their association is bringing. Last November saw the Danish toys giant Lego end its relationship with the Daily Mail after being lobbied by a concerned parent. If enough companies can be convinced to shift their advertising away from right wing media companies, they may be forced to change their ways.
Stephen Pennells – Global Justice Manchester campaigner
For the Stop Funding Hate petition click here
Twitter: @StopFundingHate or #StopFundingHate
Feature image, photos and video: Stephen Pennells